Topic, a new streaming service from First Look Media, has released a new original series titled Release. Produced and filmed prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, Release follows various people as a fictional pandemic ravages the town, the story unfolding in six interconnected vignettes. It was co-created and written by Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison. Penna and Morrison direct, along with Joshua Caldwell. The show stars Aunjanue Ellis, Lana McKissack, Matthew Lawler, Kota Eberhardt, Noah Averbach-Katz, and Mark Borkowski.
One reason why the show works so well in its structure is that it offers personal glimpses into its characters’ lives, keeping it grounded. Each episode primarily features between two to four main characters. Doing so prevents the viewer from becoming overwhelmed with characters to keep up with, allowing the show to thrive with its minimal cast and keep you invested in their stories.
Along the same vein, the show relies heavily on the talent of its actors, and they did not disappoint. Every actor has an opportunity to show-off their strengths, almost all of them in episodes with minimal dialogue. They conveyed their respective characters’ emotions and reactions towards the fictional pandemic clearly. Many had inner conflicts they brought to the forefront without needing to utter a single word. One standout performer for me is Aunjanue Ellis, who appears in the fourth episode, “Scorn.” Her character mourns another, and her grief is apparent and powerful. Ellis gracefully slips through varying emotions, creating something authentic and deeply relatable.
Another interesting aspect of the show is how it establishes (or rather, doesn’t establish) its pandemic. Going into it, we already know the town is experiencing one. The origins and type of pandemic are unknown. It simply exists within the world of the show. We do witness the effects of the mysterious virus, which acts rapidly once someone becomes infected – but don’t worry, they aren’t zombies. However, the rapid spread, paired with phone alerts and supply shortages, create an apocalyptic atmosphere. It adds to the suspense of waiting to find out if something inevitably takes a turn for the worse.
Release delves even deeper, exploring isolation in a literal and figurative sense, paranoia, desperation, and hope. Each character faces their own personal struggles with their quarantine; a couple of them are desperate for protection from outside, taking whatever steps they need to protect themselves. The pilot episode introduces characters who are released from jail but face more confinement after being potentially infected. They also grapple with deeper struggles exacerbated by the pandemic. Despite the negative feelings, the show is also tinged with hope. While it’s not the overarching tone, it relieves some of the weight of everything else happening.
Overall, Release is worth setting time aside to watch. With a runtime under two hours, the series is a concise story that utilizes its time in a productive way. Each episode tells smaller complete stories that fit into the general picture of the show. The cinematography is beautiful, enhancing the already personal aspects of the show. The tension, the eerie similarities to the real pandemic, and the stellar cast will hold your attention. It also nearly serves as a PSA for the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the importance of masks and other protective measures as the characters try to protect themselves.
Release is now streaming only on Topic.